|Sam Zelman created “The Big News,” |
a 45-minute local broadcast at L.A.'s KNXT (now KCBS-TV)
that inspired the shift to longer newscasts. (handout,)
Broadcast journalist Sam Zelman blew up that formula.
In 1961 he created “The Big News” at KNXT-TV (now KCBS-TV) that presented 45 minutes of local news, sports and weather, kicked off by the regal-looking Jerry Dunphy intoning: “From the desert to the sea to all of Southern California, a good evening.”
Local news was never the same, and Zelman, late in his career, went on to help create another breakthrough in TV news that naysayers said would never work — CNN.
Zelman, 100, died Friday at his home in Tucson, Arizona. The cause was respiratory failure, said his wife, Sally Davenport.
Many in broadcasting thought KNXT was crazy to program a 45-minute local news block. “People said, ‘How ever are you going to fill it?’” Pete Noyes, the first city editor of “The Big News,” said in a 2011 Los Angeles Times interview.
But newspapers, covering a variety of topics, were what Zelman wanted to emulate. “I like the subject to change often,” he told a group of students in Tucson in a 2013 video-recorded class session. “With a newspaper, I can move from one story to another.”
He hired a somewhat hard-bitten group of reporters and editors, many of whom came from newspapers and news services. They brought with them the stereotypical hard-news lifestyle of the era.
“There were bottles of booze in the desks of several writers and producers,” Noyes wrote in his “The Real Los Angeles Confidential” memoir. “The smell of burning trash cans resulted from discarded cigarettes that were still lit.”
But Zelman wanted to give audiences what couldn’t be conveyed in a 15-minute newscast. “He would say, ‘You’ve got to give them stories they will remember. You’ve got to rely on the intelligence of the audience,’” Noyes said in an interview last week.
To front the broadcast, he wanted strong on-air personalities. In addition to Dunphy, who became a Los Angeles institution in four decades of anchoring, the “The Big News” had Maury Green for investigative reports, Ralph Story for on-air essays, former actor and umpire Gil Stratton for sports and funnyman Bill Keene on weather. All predeceased Zelman.
The show had a slow start in ratings, but eventually walloped the competition and was widely emulated across the country.
“He turned TV news into real journalism,” University of Southern California journalism professor Joe Saltzman said.
Zelman was born Oct. 6, 1914, in Washington. As a boy, he had a paper route delivering the Washington Star, earning $6 a month.
Full story: Frederick News Post - Sam Zelman
Attribution: Associated Press - DAVID COLKER